Where Does the Line Go in “Sharenting”?

By Priyanka Bansal

November 2021 FEATURE
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“SHARENTING” CAN BE defined in dual terms. One, as a congregation for parents on social media to share experiences and stories of their children in exchange for support and advice; and two, the more contestable issue of oversharing child-focused images and content.

Naturally, during Covid, both activities spiked. Through parents, a child’s digital identity is often shaped long before they are personally acquainted with the online world. Mother of two Ester Laura J., for example, uploads photos and videos of her children on social media at least twice weekly. “I make TikTok videos and share them on WhatsApp or on my Facebook feed and story. I love keeping them as digital memories, it makes me happy to know that I can be reminded of them again years later.” Nur Hafizah Umar, also a mother of two, agrees, “I post on social media to keep track of my children’s milestones and to relive the memories we created together as a family.”

But there are mums who refrain from fully participating in “sharenting”. Nabilah Wan guards her children’s privacy fiercely, and only shares photos of special occasions on Facebook and Instagram once she deems them safe.

Parents as Gatekeepers and Over-sharers

In many cases, parents are protectors of their children’s online identity. They assume supervisory roles in their children’s access to the internet, and discuss with them the threats that lurk online. Most too would expect for schools, community organisations and peer groups to first obtain permission before uploading their children’s photos online.

But when it is the parent’s own decision, this becomes a grey area that bears addressing. Personal disclosures or framed “markers of success” trumpetted online often receive validating feedback, either through a “Like”, “Share” or even a gratuitous comment; prompting parents to continue putting more personal content of their children’s in the public domain.

Chrislynn Chee likens this to opening a can of worms, as the child grows and their identity evolves. “It adds unnecessary pressure on the children, when parents start making them subjects of comparison with their peers, ‘They can play the piano beautifully, why can’t you?’. It simply isn’t healthy; confusion and resentment will only build as a result.”

Chrislynn Chee.

Lulled into a false sense of security that the data shared about their children will not be seen beyond a select audience on social media platforms, many parents freely post without much thought about the flimsiness of this supposed “safety net”. Even among the intended audience, those with veiled malintent are able to save and repost the data on alternate forums. One mother’s posting of her toddler’s bath time quickly found its way to a sordid space on the internet, on paedophilic sites where the photos were disturbingly altered.

Nabilah admits having considered getting permission from her children when they are older before she posts contents of them. “For the moment, I have a private page solely for close friends and family.”

Nevertheless, traditional concerns of “Stranger Danger” still prevail; kidnappings and violent crimes against juveniles are often perpetrated by relatives or acquaintances who might wish harm on the child.

Nabilah Wan.

Children’s Brands Target Parents

Through savvy marketing, a relationship between the consumer parent and the motley of children’s brands online is easily formed via strategies that run the gamut, from online contests and sweepstakes to virtual chats. But in the process, children’s identifiable information including name, birthdate, photographs and videos, and / or other personal details about their lives will also be made public. What’s more, some parents have wondered about what happens to the information once shared on social media.

Ester has participated in such contests before. “I was asked to share my son’s photograph with his name and age, and to have the same photo uploaded and shared on social media to gain as many ‘Likes’ to win the competition.” This seemingly fun, “harmless” way for parents to connect with a brand that understands them, and possibly win a prize, can also potentially put the child’s safety at risk.

Ester Laura J.

Parents enjoy a wide latitude to direct and narrate their child’s story online with almost unfettered control but perhaps, sharenting should also include a moral obligation to act with discretion and full regard for the child’s well-being. It is likely that parents will continue to mark out their children’s digital footprints long before they take their first steps, but a more pertinent question is how their safety and security online can be guaranteed as well, at least until the children assume ownership over their digital identities.

Priyanka Bansal

is an Indian expat living in Penang. Owing to her artistic bent of mind she loves writing, painting and crafting. She is also a passionate hiker with a mountaineering degree. On the academic front, she holds a postgraduate degree in public health nursing with 8 years of lectureship experience.